Castillo's first test comes Thursday vs. Ravens

508575.jpg

Castillo's first test comes Thursday vs. Ravens

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Just another game for Juan Castillo. Even though itll be the first time hes coaching defense during a football game in 22 years.

The Eagles preseason game against the Ravens Thursday night at the Linc will be Castillos first game as an NFL defensive coordinator. Or as an NFL defensive coach period.

Castillo, the Eagles offensive line coach from 1998 through 2010, was named defensive coordinator in February, replacing Sean McDermott.

Since he didnt have any offseason workouts or player meetings to run during the lockout, Castillo has really only had these first two weeks of camp to establish himself as the leader of this defense.

Head coach Andy Reid called Thursdays game the next step for Castillo, whose last coaching experience on the defensive side of the football was at Kingsville (Texas) High School in 1989.

I think this is good for him, Reid said. Weve done the mock situations out here, weve done the move-the-ball periods out here, hes used the headset, so this is the next step there. And then, the communication process I will be listening to that. The communication process with players and Ill do the same thing on the opposite side of the ball. I have both lines going. The feedback that hes getting from the box (upstairs) on substitutions and so on. So Ill be listening to the whole procedure.

Castillo said theres no significance to Thursday night beyond the fact that its his first chance to see his rookies and newcomers playing against another team.

He said the way the Eagles have run practice the past two weeks at Lehigh has prepared him for whatever comes up against the Ravens.

Well, coach Reid has really done a good thing for me as far as during practices, (since) we dont script anything, Castillo said. So whats happening is Im calling the plays, the defenses, through all of the 7-on-7, all the special cats (categories), full-team drills. Im not looking at a script, we dont have it written down, and then really making it harder because youre running around and then boom all of a sudden they tell you the personnel and you have to go ahead and call it. You should end up learning your own defense. I shouldnt have to look at a sheet to call it.

But you know, I havent done it in the NFL. So just like all of us, it will be my first time, and Ill get better every game.

Interesting that Castillo and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh both first came to Philly as members of Ray Rhodes coaching staff, and theyve remained very close friends.

Castillo joined Rhodes staff in 1995 as an offensive assistant, and Harbaugh followed in 1998 as special teams coach.

When Reid arrived in 1999, he kept four assistant coaches -- Castillo, Harbaugh, running backs coach Ted Williams (whos still here) and strength and conditioning coach Mike Wolf (who was fired after the 2009 season).

Castillo said Reid has done a good job during training camp making sure Castillo is ready for what hell face Thursday night. The Ravens are expected to play their starters in the first quarter, so that means Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin will be among the challenges for Castillo in his first NFL game as a defensive coach.

You can look at tape and all that, but I think the best thing thats helped me is (at practice), youre running around, and then all of a sudden they say, OK, its this personnel, Castillo said. And I dont have much time to think and -- boom -- I give the front and I give the coverage.

I think thats the best think thats helped me, especially running around because your head hurts, youre tired. So its really like, Bam, bam, you have to call the front and the coverage.

Preseason opener could be sloppy
Nobody quite knows what to expect Thursday night when the Eagles open the preseason with a 7:30 p.m. game against the Ravens at the Linc.

The lockout meant no OTAs, minicamps, playbooks, film sessions or team meetings for the youngsters, so for about 40 of the Eagles who will play Thursday -- rookies and free agents from other teams -- the game will be just two weeks after they first received their playbook.

I think theres going to be some learning going on out there, Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. It might not be quite as crisp as what it is once we get back into the minicamps and those type of things next year. Just by number of reps each guy has had on each play.

But at the same time, youre going to have great energy and guys will be flying around. As coaches, weve cut the package down for them so that they can show their talents a little bit, but I think its something were all looking forward to.

Jackson to start at center
Reid said veteran Jamaal Jackson will start at center against the Ravens. Both Jackson and rookie Jason Kelce have taken reps with the first-team offense at practice.

Jackson hasnt played since getting hurt late in the 2009 season but when healthy is considered a top-10 NFL center. Kelce has had a nice training camp but is still a rookie sixth-round pick.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

052516_phillies_slide.jpg

Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

DETROIT – The Phillies have an off day Thursday.
 
It will come in handy for Maikel Franco.
 
The third baseman suffered what was termed a sprained right ankle while sliding into second base in the top of the seventh inning Wednesday. He hobbled off the field before the start of the bottom of the inning.
 
After the game, both Franco and manager Pete Mackanin stressed that the sprain was mild.
 
Franco received treatment after coming out of the game and he will again on the off day. Mackanin said he would exercise caution in determining Franco’s availability for Friday afternoon, but did not rule out playing Franco.
 
Franco was adamant. He’s playing.
 
“It’s a little bit sore, but it’s fine,” he said. “It already feels better. I’ll be ready for Friday. With the day off, I know I’ll be OK.”
 
If Franco can’t play, Mackanin would insert super-sub Andres Blanco into the lineup. He had two hits, including an RBI double, and scored two runs in Wednesday’s win over the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Franco had a pair of singles and is 7 for 15 in his last four games.

Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

052516-lunch-break-slide.jpg

Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

After the Eagles drafted quarterback Carson Wentz, head coach Doug Pederson declared that Sam Bradford was still the No. 1 quarterback.

Pederson reiterated it when a scowling Bradford chose to skip some voluntary workouts and did so again after Bradford returned to the team.

But Pederson's assistants haven't been so clear.

On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz discussed the topic when asked how he brought along QB Matt Stafford — the first overall pick in 2009 — while serving as head coach of the Detroit Lions. 

"Don't judge him on somebody else, and then also don't predetermine the results of the race," Schwartz said. "Just let him go play. Don't put pressure on him."

At the moment, it certainly seems like the results of the race are predetermined. It's Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz ... right? 

On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Frank Reich was on 94-WIP and was asked by Angelo Cataldi about the "impression" that Bradford is the No. 1 QB and there isn't an open competition. 

“No, I would actually say that’s probably not the right impression. I'll tell you why,” Reich said. “I’ve been around this business a long time as a player and as a coach, and one of the things I’ve really come to appreciate is it’s not a contradiction to say that you’ve got to have order. Because if you don’t order it’s chaos. 

"So if you’re the head coach you, gotta come in and you’ve gotta establish order. There has to be organization, there has to be order, but the other thing that, as coaches, that you’ve got to establish is a culture of competition. I mean this is one of the most competitive industries in the world — and so, to say that there’s not competition, that’s just the furthest thing from the truth.

“So I don’t see the problem with creating order and competition at the same time, personally. Every one of us as a coach and a player, you’re working harder to get better, but in that process you have to establish order, and things have a way of working themselves out.”

So there has to be a order — hence Pederson's QB depth chart — but there also has to be competition.

In other words, there is a depth chart, but it's written in pencil. And a big eraser is nearby.

Let the saga continue.

Training camp is still two months away.

New scheme, new Marcus Smith: 'You'll see a lot different Marcus'

052416-marcus-smith-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_692279875670.jpg

New scheme, new Marcus Smith: 'You'll see a lot different Marcus'

It's a new year for the Eagles, but the same lowered expectations for Marcus Smith. The 2014 first-round pick recorded only seven tackles and 1½ sacks over his first two NFL seasons, so at this point you can forgive people for being pessimistic about his development.

Smith doesn't blame Eagles fans for being disappointed with his career up to this point. The 24-year-old isn't content with the way things have panned out thus far, either, but sounds as though he's ready to turn the page in a new scheme.

"I understand they want their first-round draft pick to play," Smith said of fan criticism. "I wanted to be on the field, but I wasn't. I learned a lot of things from my first to my second year and I think I've grown and matured a lot, and this third year you'll see a lot different Marcus."

That won't do much to sway public opinion that he's a draft bust. The Eagles, however, are hoping a position change will unlock the potential that led the club to take Smith with the 26th overall selection in the draft.

Smith came to the league a raw prospect to begin with, and was immediately asked to take on the many responsibilities of an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. In a 4-3 alignment under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the third-year pro will line up at defensive end, where he'll primarily be used to create disruptions in opposing backfields.

"This is a scheme that greatly limits what he's asked to do," Schwartz said. "Difficult in execution, but easy in theory. Should allow him to play fast, attack spots, give him a little bit less responsibility but hopefully allow him to make a greater impact.

"He's very athletic. He's got great size. He's done very well so far, but let's reserve judgment on any of these guys until we get pads on them."

Smith admits it's a role he was more accustomed to playing in college.

"I never really dropped into coverage before," Smith said reminiscing of his time at Louisville. "I dropped into coverage in some spurts, I knew how to do it, I was athletic enough to do it, but their thing was they wanted me to go rush the passer and be able to make plays. That's what I'm doing now."

This could be an opportunity for Smith to hit the reset button, in a manner of speaking. He was overwhelmed and couldn't get on the field in a complex 3-4. Schwartz's 4-3, on the other hand, is much more streamlined, letting linemen pin their ears back and do one thing well rather than force them to be jacks of all trades.

"I feel like with Jim Schwartz, we have a great relationship to where I can just go make plays and not think about anything," Smith said. "He always talks about that with me. He says, 'Just go make plays, I don't want you to think.'

"Scheme is definitely more simplified. It's really just go get the ball. His philosophy is hit the ball on the way to the quarterback because we know sacks change games, so if you get a sack fumble and you're able to scoop and score, that's what changes a game. That's what Schwartz's philosophy is."

Believe it or not, there might still be hope for Smith. His 1½ sacks were registered in the final two games of the 2015 season, a late surge that could've been seen as a sign of progress, yet wound up flying under the radar at the conclusion of a lost year. After all, it's not at all uncommon for some players to need a year or two to adjust to life in the NFL.

If Smith has any chance of shedding the dreaded bust label, he certainly has a perfect mentor in teammate Brandon Graham. The 13th pick in 2010, Graham experienced similar hardships when his Eagles career didn't get off to a brilliant start, but has since proven to be a capable starter.

Graham's situation wasn't identical, as his progress and opportunities were derailed in large part because of injury. Regardless, he understands as well anybody the lack of playing time and criticism that comes with failing to live up to high expectations.

"We talk pretty much every day," Smith says of his relationship with Graham. "He actually went through something worse than I did because he went through a couple of years with not playing. He talks to me about it all the time, and told me to keep my head down and keep working and everything will fall into place."

As of now, Smith is currently lining up opposite Graham with the second-team defense, behind Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry. The Eagles also used a seventh-round pick on Alex McAllister.

Still, despite the competition, despite his lack of production to date, Smith is keeping a positive outlook and feels as though he has every opportunity to be productive as part of a rotation.

"The way we play and how fast we play, [Schwartz] wants an eight-man rotation," Smith said. "He wants us to be able to be fresh. All of us can play 25-30 snaps a game. He wants us to be well-rested and ready to go because we're gonna be going.

"Whoever is starting, whoever's not starting, I think when you get in the game, just go get it. Once the coaches put you in the ballgame, you've just gotta be able to make plays."

There's no question Smith is running out of chances with the Eagles, that his reclamation story is already beginning to wear thin. The truth is his roster spot might even be in jeopardy if the roster was much deeper, and any contribution in 2016 will be viewed as a pleasant surprise.

There's also no question the physical ability is there. Smith is 6-foot-3 with sub-4.7 speed and told reporters he weighs close to 260 pounds. Point him in one direction with a singular goal — get into the backfield — and the Eagles may squeeze some production out of him yet.